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10 tips to defeat impostor syndrome in the workplace


Do you struggle with self-doubt? Do you feel like you don’t deserve the authority you’ve been given? Or, do you work with someone who you think might be feeling this way?

Many smart, successful individuals struggle with unwarranted insecurities. In fact, over 70 percent of workers face this plight, according to Inc. Magazine.

While outsiders see their strengths as clear as day, individuals with “impostor syndrome” doubt their own merit and worth.

Whether you’re dealing with your own feelings of fraudulence, or you’re a leader who recognizes signs of impostor syndrome in a team member, here’s how to contend with this stifling predicament.

Address your own feelings of impostor syndrome

As a leader, it’s crucial for you to set a positive example for your team. Unfortunately, if you’re struggling with impostor syndrome, there’s a chance you’re overcompensating by setting standards impossibly high for yourself and others.

That can unintentionally create a culture or environment where workers feel nothing is ever quite good enough. You’re likely doing this to prove something to yourself due to your feelings of inadequacy.

Follow these seven steps if you think impostor syndrome may be getting the best of you:

1. Recognize what’s happening

If you go home each day feeling like a fraud, it’s time to acknowledge your feelings and start to deal with them. While it’s easy to push them aside, you must recognize the strain and damage that this negative self-image can have on your work and life, if left unaddressed.

2. Challenge your negative thoughts and beliefs

Many who struggle with impostor syndrome also score low in self-awareness. Start by looking at yourself from an outsider’s perspective.

For example, if a friend came to you and said, “I feel like I’m not living up to the image I portray to others,” what would you advise? Would you agree, or would you tell them they are being too hard on themselves? Treat yourself with the same kindness that you would offer to others in this position.

3. Get your résumé out, and review it

If your name wasn’t on the résumé, what would you say about this person? Chances are, if you’re feeling like a fake, you’re dismissing a lot of the education and experience that got you to where you are today. Take a moment to remind yourself of what you’ve accomplished.

4. Identify your strengths

A process of self-assessment can help you become more aware of who you are and where you excel. Consider using self-assessment tools like DISC or StrengthsFinder to help you in this process. The more self-aware you become about your strengths, the better equipped you will be to eliminate the negative self-talk that leaves you feeling like an impostor.

5. Build some new beliefs

Ask yourself, “What does it really mean to be successful?” Often times, without doing this, the bar for success continuously rises to the point that it can never be reached. When you have a clear, static definition of success, it becomes more attainable.

6. Create a personal mantra

Once you have your definition of success, repeat it to yourself until it sticks. Reinforce the idea by reciting it to yourself every day for 30 days. This pattern of thought will become habitual and, in turn, knock out the feeling that success is always out of reach.

7. Celebrate movement in the right direction

If you see yourself becoming a more confident boss and genuinely believing in yourself, acknowledge your accomplishment. It’s no easy feat, and you deserve credit for your hard work.

Spot and stop impostor syndrome in others

Now let’s talk about your team. There’s a chance you have employees who are struggling with impostor syndrome and you’re overlooking it completely.

For example, have you noticed anyone passing up good opportunities when you see no good reason as to why?

Say, a new job opening is announced that you feel fits their experience level and skill set. Did they skip the application? If there aren’t other factors at play, it could be because they thought they were unqualified for the promotion despite their accolades.

It’s up to you to notice when team members are selling themselves short. Here are a few ways you can help build up team members if you see they’re facing self-doubt.

1. Praise their efforts

While it’s always a good thing to recognize your staff for their great work, this is especially true for team members exhibiting signs of impostor syndrome. A simple moment of acknowledgement for their contributions can go a long way.

On the flip side, when mistakes are made, turn failures into learning opportunities by making sure criticism is both warranted and constructive. This way, employees leave coaching sessions stronger and better equipped to address issues in the future.

2. Teach them to accept compliments

Those who struggle with impostor syndrome also tend to have difficulty accepting kudos for their work and try to explain why they aren’t worthy of the praise. Instead of saying, “Thank you,” to a compliment, they tend to say things like, “Thank you, but my colleague really deserves most of the credit.”

Consider teaching the “Thank you, and…” method to your team. Rather than downplaying their success, advise your team members to accept the praise and reciprocate it by giving a compliment in return. For instance, they might say, “Thank you, and you did a great job on your presentation today as well.”

This is a good way for team members to take a compliment without feeling immodest or refusing credit. Meanwhile, it helps them to build their self-esteem and quell negative thoughts.

3. Set up a mentorship

Sometimes, people need a little help to stop feelings of insecurity from taking over their thoughts. A mentor can serve as a great resource for your team member to talk to someone when they need some help overcoming insecurities. Consider pairing up an employee with a mentor if you see they could use some additional coaching.

Build positive reinforcements into your culture

If you want you and your employees to feel confident when you walk into work each day, a concerted effort must be made toward this goal.

Create opportunities for both employees and leaders to be rewarded and recognized on an ongoing basis. Whether it’s through performance reviews, employee awards or just sharing kudos in a team meeting, the positive feedback loop will help those grappling with impostor syndrome to ward off self-doubt.

Your effort will pay dividends in other areas, as well, by building team camaraderie and trust.

Want more tips like this like this? Download The Insperity guide to learning and development now for more insight.